Leaside dancer visits Arabian themes in Fringe Festival act
The annual Fringe Festival, held July 2–13 in theatres across Toronto, let Helen Colas explore her alter ego, Amoura, in an ancient Persian backdrop.
Colas, a mother of two boys in North Leaside, sits in a Starbucks on Bayview Avenue, wearing jeans and a white tank top. There’s a downpour outside on this summer day, but inside she’s talking about the fiery tales found in Arabian Nights: A Belly Dance Spectacular.
The belly dancer, in her 30s, lets loose a crescent-shaped grin when she describes theatrical belly dance script born of the One Thousand and One Nights from the Islamic Golden Age.
“We bring to the stage four of those stories — Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, The Snake Queen, The Porter and the Sisters of Baghdad,” she says. “Scheherazade is there, and it’s actually amazing because it touches on so many themes, like violence, adultery, happiness, murder, jealousy and lust.”
It was Colas’ first Fringe Festival, but it was not her first time belly dancing. She’s been at it for 20 years.
Her introduction to the dance form came in her late teens at the wedding of her sister, Thelma Stavridis. Little did she know the woman performing the dance, Habeeba Hobeika, would become her teacher.
“I was just in awe,” Colas trills. “I’d never seen anything more beautiful in my life, and it stuck.
“I wanted to do what she was doing.”
At first it was a secondary job to her 9-to-5 grind, where she “was Helen, Monday through Friday, and Amoura on the weekend”.
Then she married husband Alfred, had sons Adrian, 11, and Steven, 9, and moved to San Juan, Argentina, deep in the Tulúm Valley.
While abroad she continued to hone her skills as a belly dancer, with the Ballet Fatme. When she returned to Toronto in 2010, she switched her primary job to her art, joining the Sisters of Salome dance troupe, and earning a certification as a fitness trainer.
It was through her connections that she connected with New York theatrical choreography Sarah Skinner, who moved to Toronto, and heads the Sisters of Salome dance troupe. Skinner was also the choreographer for Arabian Nights.
“She was looking for experienced belly dancers, who had a basis in belly dance but were able to do a little fusion,” Colas says of her successful audition for the production.
Now that Fringe is over, Colas focuses on life, all while studying to become a pilates instructor, and working as a long-standing member of Habeeba’s Egyptian Dance Company.
“I live the Leaside mommy life,” she says, with a laugh. “But I do this performance, and teaching, training and fitness.”